Sunera Foundation

Amidst motion in a brushstroke, or a choreographed sequence, a motion of expression or gesture is a motion and medium of language – a voice of creativity to convey, to connect and engage. The facilitation of art mediums to create these inclinations and the utilization of its tools to establish relationships and build connections in communities are those that become a language. Such is its power, riveting and stimulating, its dynamic and communicative potential thriving as the artists flourish in this practice, in expressing. The Sunera Foundation’s initiative to create this space of ultimate dynamism, for those individuals with disabilities and impairments, employing the practices of art from music, dance and theatre to the visual. 

The story of the beginning of Sunera Foundation starts on a Sunday morning through an invitation from Founder of AMICI Dance Theatre Company, Wolfgang Stange to Sunethra Bandaranaike in request to witness an audition for a theatre workshop at Ranaviru Sevana where soldiers, all nursing injuries from the war, stayed ready to express themselves through art. This would later begin a series of workshops and performances by people whose disabilities became a meaningless distinction and their skill shone through, surpassing their struggles – through art, these individuals flew, unfolding their wings as they soared across the stage in performances, ‘Butterflies Will Always Fly’ in 1998, ‘Flowers Will Always Bloom’ in 1999 debuting in Colombo and subsequently in London, Sydney and New York where they were invited to perform at the finale of the World Theatre Festival in 2003. The successful collaboration resulted in the induction of the Sunera Foundation in April, 2000 as a charity organization. The Foundation has since conducted many workshops, events and performances including its annual festival, ‘Samanalayaya’. 

The Sunera Foundation has dedicated its capacities to enhancing the qualities of life of the communities living with disabilities. Each year, each of its workshops presents short performances, scripted and directed by the trainers of the organization; ‘Samanalayaya’ develops the creative skills of the participants, strengthening their capabilities through the performance arts of drama, music and dance while raising awareness of the inherent flair for the arts of each individual. The integration of performance art into the community building and attempts at bringing forth the individuals with disabilities allows for the liberating expression of self, providing a voice and platform for those persons to meld into society as one and the same, their talents allowing the audience connect to them and them to their observers. The idiosyncrasy and dynamism through which these talents were being used created an enigmatic scene, a performance of awe and wonder – a wheelchair becomes a vehicle and a crutch a weapon prop, a prosthetic leg only emphasizing the poignancy of a particular scene.

The power of such a methodology as assimilating art into these experiential experiences and activities is so that the participants are provided with a means to externalize their experiences, needs and wants, utilizing art as a verbal language allowing for a natural and developmentally sensitive medium of communication and interaction. Studies have shown that the practice and participation of such activities inculcate a positive impact and effect on mental and physical conditions including self-esteem and confidence while nurturing cultural experiences and aesthetic pleasure. The praxis through which art plays a huge role in the in the psychological states on individuals who have experienced trauma, emotional issues and socio-political disadvantages, the stigma against such persons and the discrimination allows for the fundamental support of enhancing behavioural standards of not only the participants but also those who are outside such circles. The Sunera Foundation is a space that allows these praxes, in its journey shedding light onto voids and potholes in humanity’s fabric, teaching communities to bridge the gap between social, ethical and political concerns. 

Writer and Journalist Smriti Daniel, in her account of Sunera Foundation’s 20th Anniversary celebration ‘Wings’, quotes writer Carl Muller from The Sunday Times in 1999 on one of the performances, “Here, the legless walked tall; the blind pointed that we may see; the armless embraced us warmly and those in their wheelchairs told us of the wheels of life, of this spinning world and how they could steer over the rainbow where they, the butterflies would waft on wings of art and song.” The nuances of beauty captured in the performances of the Sunera Foundation and its participants, the lives that encapsulate stories and narratives that pertain to larger conceptions while the colours from their enchanting costumes and symphonies of musical solos, a choreographed dance and an riveting drama fill the stage with light and wonder, intrigue and awe; these individuals are alive in performance as their distinctions are not stigmatized, their talent celebrated and their dedication commended. Such is the beauty of this performance, their multicoloured feathered wings spread wide and soaring, reaching the bluest skies as they fly to richer pastures and take their audience with them. 

27th April, 2021 Performance Art